japtea-36.jpgOn the 15th December my compatriots and I, travelled to Kensington, London, to participate in a Kakegawa tea tasting event. This event featured a slide show presentation discussing the tea growing region Kakegawa propounded by Asako Steward, followed by an opportunity to taste Fukamushi-Cha, through both the official Japanese tea tasting evaluation style as well as a properly brewed cup to enjoy. The event was organised by the local government of the Kakegawa – city in order to raise awareness about the teas and to connect with people who will be able to help promote the teas by writing about them or selling them here in the UK. 7 Kakegawa representatives visited London, including their taster who prepared Japanese tea for evaluation in the Japanese style. It was a truly amazing experience, and throughout the rest of this blog, I will impart the knowledge I learnt. This includes some details about the tea growing region, the tea growing method, as well as Fukamushi-Cha. Also, all the vibrant pictures were taken by Matt George, who graciously travelled with Robyn Ingram and I to London.

Kakegawa is a city in western Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Within Kakegawa’s city limits are some local attractions including the reconstructed Kakegawa castle, Palace a residence of the Lord of Kakegawa, as well as Kakegawa Kacho-en, which hosts a large variety of bird and plant species in a greenhouse-enclosed private garden. Its 1st output is tea, with 60% of the production being Sencha, its well renowned for its excellent tea production, with the temperature difference between day and night together with the mountain climate japtea-4refreshed by mountain dew, combine to create ideal conditions for delicious teas. The total tea cultivated area of Japan as of 2013 is represented by 45,400 hectares, while the Shizuoka area accounts for 40.3%, and Kakegawa contains a 2300 hectare tea garden. Tea gardens in Kakegawa are controlled with 2 hour programmes, where hot or cold air is blown on to the bushes to protect the tea. There are 16 main tea producing area, with over 3000 tea producing factories, who then sell to over 4000 merchants which then sort the crude tea into a refined tea. Tea is also a part of the curriculum in local schools, where they learn to grow, pick, process and sort their own tea. Children can often be found playing a blind tea tasting game known as Cha-ka-go-we, or gargling with it due to the antibacterial properties found in green tea.

This important tea growing region is now listed as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), a programme that was established in 2002. Only three tea producing areas in the world are listed as such and only 8 places in Japan are listed as GIAHS for their unique farming methods (not for tea but for other crops). The traditional tea-grass integrated system in Shizuoka (Chagusaba) is a traditional farming method for nurturing a rich diversity of living organisms and for co-existence with the environment. From 150 years ago tea was grown in Kakegawa, and the tradition of tea farmers strewing cut grass between the rows has survived since then. The combination of productivity in farming and conservation of local biodiversity is highly rated. Semi-natural grasslands are where bamboo grass, Japanese pampas grass, and other types of grass are grown and harvested for use as organic matters in the tea fields, and is known as Chagusaba (meaning the field where tea farmers cut grass). Chagusaba scatters around the tea field leading to a characteristic landscape commonplace, but nevertheless unique to Shizuoka Prefecture.

japtea-7To make quality tea the grass is cut in late autumn, and the harvested grass is left in heaps to dry in the fields, this dried grass is then cut before being spread between the rows of tea fields. 7 tonnes of grass are used per 1 hectare of a tea field.

This affects the tea fields through the spreading of grass by locking moisture into the soil, preventing drought, and keeps the soil warm. The grass acts as an organic fertiliser through the decomposition of grass that forms compost, and improves the soil quality, by inducing reproduction of microorganisms in the soil. The key to the growth of good tea is soft soil, the grass mixed with soil creates moisture balance, allowing the tree roots to grow 1 metre deep. The dried grass also prevents the growth of weeds. Finally, the presence of the grass spread out in the tea fields suppresses the outflow of soil, meaning the soil is not lost on the slopes.

Due to the Chagusaba method, every autumn the grass harvest has created a special habitat for a large diversity of living organism with over 300 species of meadow plants being found of which 7 have been confirmed to be either endangered or endemic to Kakegawa. Including the Short Horned Grasshopper, Helleborine, Euphorbia Watanabei and many others.

japtea-22Tea farmers in Kakegawa developed Fukamushi-Cha over multiple tries concentrating on the climate and soil rather than the looks of the leaves, in order to enhance the character of the tea in the area through the deep steaming method. Kakegawa has also been awarded the best Fukamushi-Cha for 10 consecutive years, with a total of 19 times. Fukamushi-Cha is processed with the thick tea leaves of plants that have long hours of sunlight throughout its life cycle, this abundance of sunlight attributes to the high levels of Vitamin C and tannin. The leaves are then processed the same as sencha, however, the steaming process undergone almost immediately after harvesting is 2-3 times longer than usual, before rolling/drying and finally sorting. Deep steaming breaks down the tea leaf cells, therefore making it easier to release nutrients from the vacuole into the liquor whilst brewing. This deep steaming creates a thick intense and sweet mellow taste, with a smooth texture, that can only be found in good quality Fukamushi-Cha. The difference between usual sencha and Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha can be found in both the colour and taste, whilst sencha is normally a pale green, Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha is a deep green colour, and the taste of Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha is not astringent when compared to sencha.japtea-28.jpg

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Some holiday fun, all the answers can be found in the previous history blogs. Have fun and don’t forget to comment how you did at: https://www.facebook.com/shennongofkent/ or https://twitter.com/ShennongOfKent or even comment below. The winner might just get a prize.

When was Green Tea first brought to Japan?
805 A.D.
Correct: Two Buddhist monks, Saicho and Kukai, who, after studying abroad in China returned with some young tea trees.
1211 A.D.
Wrong: This is when Eisai went on to write the first Japanese book about tea, called KISSA YOHJYOH KI.
16th Century
Wrong: During this period tea farmers discovered, by accident, that tea leaves grown in shade have a mellow taste.
In China tea was originally used by the people for what?
Decoration
Wrong.
Chewing
Correct: Tea leaves was initially used by people just for chewing and eating, in just the same way that coffee was first used by people eating the beans directly in Ethiopia.
 
Cooking
Wrong: Over time tea was eventually used in cooking, before being added to boiling water for flavour, but this is not the initial use.
The British are known for their passion for tea, but who first introduces tea to the royal palace?
Princess Catherine
Correct: Princess Catherine from Portuguese married King Charles, she brought several crates of Chinese black tea as a dowry.
King Henry III
Wrong: In 1235 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II sent Henry III three leopards to mark his wedding to Eleanor of Provence, the emperor’s sister.
British Raj
Wrong: He was the rule of the British crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947.
In 1676 an act taxed tea and required coffee house operators to apply for a license, what industry was created because of this?
Tea smuggling
Correct: Ships from Holland and Scandinavia brought tea to the British coast, then stood offshore while smugglers met them and unloaded the precious cargo in small vessels.
Pubs
Wrong: It was an invading Roman army that first brought Roman roads, Roman towns and Roman pubs known as tabernae to these shores in 43 AD.
Tea Police
Wrong: No such job or industry exists. 
Formerly white tea was consumed by?
A luxury reserved for the emperor of China
Correct.
Farmers
Wrong: Farmers as well as common people, used tea leaves by chewing and eating them but did not consume white tea.
Elderly as a medicine
Wrong: According to Chinese medicine, it helps to counteract excessive heat and alleviates the symptoms of menopause, but was not initially used for this purpose.
How was white tea rumoured to have been served to the Emperor during the Song Dynasty?
By virgins with white gloves
Correct: It was seen as a symbol of respect and honour.
From a tea set made of gold and enamelled with gems
Wrong.
By his guards
Wrong.
What was the reason that the farmer stopped processing the tea, and led to the creation of Oolong tea?
He saw a deer and decided to hunt the deer
Correct: The next day that he got around to finishing the tea, but by that time the edges of the leaves had partially oxidised, and gave off a surprising good aroma.  So he decided to finish the processing as usual, the finished product became known as Oolong tea.
He was summoned by the emperors guard
Wrong.
He left the tea in a barrel where it was compressed
Wrong:  Beiyuan tea was the earliest known tribute tea, this tea was a compressed type of tea, with the leaves compressed into cakes, whilst this tea is Oolong it is not the creation. 
Which country in the early 1800’s did a Fujian tea merchant take some seeds to see how well the plants would grow there?
Taiwan
Correct: It proved to be very successful and so in the following years tea production in Taiwan became very widespread and Oolong has become the most widely exported type of tea from Taiwan.
India
Wrong.
China
Wrong.
There are two different types of Pu’er tea, which type has a very long history and is also the tea that many tea collectors are enthusiastically searching for?
Raw
Correct.
Ripe
Wrong: Ripe Pu’er has a much shorter history compared to raw Pu’er.
The history of Pu’er Tea can be traced back to “Pu Tea” of which Dynasty?
Eastern Han Dynasty
Correct: 25-220 CE. 
Ming Dynasty
Wrong: 1368 – 1644 CE.
Tang Dynasty
Wrong: 618 – 907 CE.
Which Greek philosopher was sentenced to death by drinking Hemlock.
Socrates
Correct: The father of modern thought (469 – 399 BCE). 
Plato
Wrong: Laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science (428 – 347 BCE).
Aristotle
Wrong: His ethics, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics (384 – 322 BCE).
What does the word ’tisane’ refer to?
Any plant parts, excluding tea plants
Correct.
Tea plant parts
Wrong.
Any plant parts
Wrong.

The medicinal properties associated with tea, as well as the low caffeine levels, are not supported by modern scientific studies. This is due to the fact that the tea plant grows in so many regions and can be processed in so many different ways, tests on one tea do not prove effects of all tea. Even individuals brewing technique will change the chemical compounds infused, and their rate of absorption. It is premature to make the call on relative antioxidant counts, because of the number of contradictory studies and the lack of a long term study with control groups.

During infusion, some chemical components, such as vitamin C, are destroyed, whereas others are more easily dissolved into the liquid. Many of the bioactive compounds in the tea leaves still do make it into the final drink, which contains large amounts of important nutrients. Roughly a cup of tea is composed of several hundred active substances.

While tea leaves contain the components found in every living organism and those characteristic of plant species, it is the presence of polyphenols and alkaloids that gives an infusion of tea leaves such astonishing properties. Each leaf is loaded with polyphenols, such as flavonoids and catechins, which function as powerful antioxidants. Polyphenols are a combination of several groups of phenols that make up a family of organic molecules present throughout the plant kingdom. In tea, these phenols are found in the catechins, of which tannins are the main component. Tannins have astringent properties that make living tissues contract, these polyphenols give tea its astringency, strength and thickness. These substance can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, protecting cells and molecules from damage, by fighting the breakdown of cellular membranes caused by various stressors. They may also prevent the development of the metastases that lead to cancerous tumours.

However, that does not mean that tea doesn’t have solid health benefits. Many of these claimed benefits can be attributed to the low levels of theine present in tea. Theine and caffeine are the same alkaloid, and has been recognised as being identical in 1838, the caffeine in tea is nonetheless distinguishable from the caffeine found in coffee because it forms different bonds with other substances, which in turn changes how it affects the body. When tea leaves are infused, the caffeine combines with tannins, which attenuate and stabilise the caffeines affects on the body. Tannins prevent caffeine being released to rapidly, so it can be absorbed over along period of time, the effect therefore is more regular as well as lasting longer. In tea, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system by enlarging the diameter of the vessels in the cerebral cortex. On the other hand, when ingested with coffee, caffeine has a direct affect on blood circulation through the coronary system, stimulating an acceleration of the heart rate. In other words tea is more of a stimulant than an excitant. It sharpens the mind, increases concentration, eliminates fatigue and enhances intellectual acuity. For many the effects of caffeine in tea are much milder and more harmonious with their metabolism than the caffeine of coffee.

The analysis of the caffeine content of various types of tea, leads scientists to believe that there is no real consistency. In every tea family, some teas contain very little caffeine while others contain a lot.

In addition, like all drinks, tea provides liquid, which helps keep you hydrated, and offers a chance to stop in the middle of the day and enjoy a treat. The effect of even 15 minutes of daily meditation has been documented to relieve stress. Stress and dehydration are major contributors to physical ailment. Decades of lower stress levels help keep a healthy immune system, and have a powerful potential to lengthen lifetimes.

Since 99% of a cup of tea consists of water, the quality of water used is important. Ancient Chinese masters used to amuse themselves by trying to guess the source of the water used to infuse the tea. Water laden with calcium oxide, magnesium, lead or chlorine, for example can cause a bleach aftertaste, hard, limestone-rich water should also be avoided if possible. The supposedly ideal water is pH neutral and contains a few minerals. Lu Yu in contrast claimed that “the most suitable water is from the same region as the tea,” because when in contact with the water that the tree drank all its life, the leaves true nature will reveal themselves.

Tea also facilitates digestion by stimulating the elimination of fats. On the other hand, it can inhibit the absorption of iron and calcium from foods. For this reason, drinking tea of any type with meals is not recommended, nor is drinking tea during the half hour before or after a meal.

Green Tea

Green tea has been used by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to reduce heat, boost alertness, relieve headaches, help digestion, and more, successfully for many years.

Also according to recent studies, green tea appears to contain a higher number of polyphenols than other tea families. Green tea  is also believed to contain more iron, vitamins and catechins than black tea, this and the higher polyphenol content is due to the dehydration method involved in the processing of green tea.

White Tea

According to Chinese medicine, it helps to counteract excessive heat and alleviates the symptoms of menopause.

Oolong Tea

Regular consumption of oolong tea is said to have a slimming effect by stimulating the metabolising of lipids. Due to the high concentration of aromatic oil, which are drawn out of the leaves during rolling, oolong tea can have an anti-stress or even euphoric effect.

Black Tea

The enzymatic oxidation undergone by the leaves during the processing of black tea converts some of the catechins into theaflavins and thearubigins, as well as destroys some of the vitamins. But, the caffeine in black tea is released more rapidly into the bloodstream over a shorter period compared to green tea, as oxidation partially separates it from the tannins. This means that black tea is more effect as a physical stimulant than green tea.

Pu’er Tea

Pu’er tea has long been used as a dietary supplement by nomadic tribes and ethnic groups living in regions of Asia, because of it specific properties. As these people ate mostly very fatty yak meat, tea allowed them to balance their diet, counteracting the fat. Pu’er teas are recognised as helping specifically to regulate the body and stimulate digestion. Pu’er is also known to eliminate cholesterol from the body.

Tisane (pronounced tee-zahn) has many claimed origins, some sources credit the term coming from the Greek word ptisanē (originally referring to a beverage made from the crushed grains of pearl barley). Others refer to the French as coining the term, one could argue that Ti (Tea) and Sans (French for “without”) or Ti (Tea) and Sine (Latin for “without”) could mean “tea without tea”, as a tea without tea could be a hot beverage with anything but tea leaves in it.

The word “tisane” refers to any plant parts, excluding tea plants, that are used  in conjunction with hot water, to make a hot beverage, and usually does not contain caffeine. Today’s Tisanes are a blend of dried herbs, flowers, roots, nuts, fruits, and natural flavours, which are fresh or dried. Tisanes are usually categorised by what part of the plant they come from. Here are some examples of each of the major categories of tisanes: leaf, flower, bark, fruit/berry and seed/spice.

A conception of the interchangeable term “tea”, within the western world begins with the experience of the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. During that time, tea (actual tea) was a major staple of many people on both sides of the Atlantic, and taxation of its importation was symbolic of the control levied by England over the colonial citizens. The colonists were strongly inclined to find a substitute, and so invented what they called “freedom tea”, or “herbal tea”, which contained no tea but could be sourced locally without import fees. It is believed that from that point onward the idea of “tea” and “herbal tea” became so conflated that each subsequent generation lost the ability to tell the difference.

Arguably the most famous herbal tea begins its journey in ancient Egypt. Tisanes have been used for nearly as long as written history extends, the first recorded mention of Chamomile was in a document known as the Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 BC, these documents talk about the actual enjoyment in drinking tisanes which were and still are regarded as social leant., Chamomile has endured a lasting fame, as it was used to honour the gods, embalm the dead and cure the sick. This light, sweet, apple-like and floral beverage is still revered for its uncanny calming effect.

Containing a range of fruits, spices and herbs, fruit teas or tisanes are caffeine free blends. The most common ingredient in fruit teas is Hibiscus, a crimson flower that yields a deep red colour for each cup and a powerful tart sweetness. Hibiscus was another one of the popular tisanes used in Egypt, it was once known as “karkade”. Dried fruits, fruit peel, fruit oils, blossoms and spices are used by tea blenders to achieve just the right blend of visual appeal and flavour profile.

In China tisanes are also extremely popular. The traditional medicinal use of the tisanes is seen as a natural cure for many diseases. The beverage is also used for enhancing health. The Chinese term “liang cha” means actually “cooling tea”, a very inspired term because it is believed this beverage cools down the body when it is overheated by sickness or weather change.

Dating back to the Greeks, the caffeine-free home remedy known as Peppermint, has been used for aiding digestion and soothing the stomach. During these times, dinning was made more pleasant by rubbing the tables with Peppermint. However, not all herbal teas of that time were as pleasant. In fact, some were deadly, such as Hemlock, which remains unavailable in many cafes, due to its unfortunate side effects. Philosophers will kindly remind us that Socrates, the father of modern thought, was sentenced to death by drinking the brew known as Hemlock.

Rooibos has skyrocketed in popularity, despite being a newcomer to the tisane scene. Rooibos is also known as “Red Bush Tea” or simply “Red Tea,” it  was introduced as a substitute for black tea. Virtually all supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas suddenly became unavailable, during World War II. The tea-addicted Western culture scoured the world for an alternative, finally discovering caffeine-free Rooibos, which grows only in South Africa. Rooibos blends extremely well with a variety of flavours and has a rich, slightly sweet flavour that is also excellent alone

Finally, Yerba Mate is the new drink to the herbal market. Consumed throughout much of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Far East, this South American botanical from the holly family, has been lauded as a cultural phenomenon that both energises and remedies the body.  Yerba Mate, or simply “Mate” is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cocoa and tea) that contains the stimulant caffeine. Drinking it from the traditional, hollowed-out gourd as well as the herby taste tends to be a bit unusual for new consumers, but after a few sips, most folks embrace it like it one of their own. Mate has now been introduced to the US as a substitute for coffee and is attracting wider attention, after originally becoming stranded in its own niche cultural market.

The Pu’er tea consists of two completely different categories. One is called “Raw Pu’er Tea” and another is “Ripe Pu’er Tea”. Raw Pu’er tea has a very long history and it was the tea traded through The Ancient Tea Route. Raw Pu’er tea is also the tea that many tea collectors are enthusiastically searching for. Freshly produced raw Pu’er tea; this form of the leaf is called Mao-cha. Pu’er raw tea is the semi-fermented tea; the tea leaf is yellowish green.

Ripe Pu’er has a much shorter history compared to raw Pu’er. Ripe Pu’er was developed in 1973-1974 at the Kunming Tea Factory with reference to the process of ancient dark tea, such as Fuzhuan Cha, that is produced by mould fermentation. While the tea undergoes fermentation, the mould produces a certain organic acid that causes the pH of the tea to reduced, resulting in a complete fermentation within a much shorter duration. Hence, the colour of the tea leaves changes to dark brown and produces a mellow taste with thick body. The good quality ripe Pu’er gives out a flavour like dried Chinese dates. In overseas market, ripe Pu’er is generally more popular.

Historically, Pu’er tea was produced by the minority ethnics for their own consumption. Sometimes it was exported to Tibet, Mongolia or South East Asia. Pu’er tea was an important commodity trade where the Chinese merchants hired the local labourers as transporters and the Pu’er tea was carried and traded for horses or other commodities. The road used for this trade was called “The Ancient Tea Route”. It is sometimes deemed as the second Silk Road as it was a very important commercial route for them.

The history of Pu’er Tea can be traced back to “Pu Tea” of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE) with the drying of leaves in the sun in Yunnan province. The plants in this region have large, soft leaves spaced far apart on large, tough stems. Today, Pu’er Tea with “large wild leaves” is highly prized. In Yunnan, we can still find a lot of old tea trees that are aged to about a few hundred years and where some are even aged up to a thousand years old or more.

There is a long history of exporting compressed, aged green Pu’er Tea, dating back to the 7th century. Needing a tea that did not spoil on the trip, various fermentation methods and compressed shapes evolved to make transport easier. It was found that tea actually improved with age, so warehousing became the practice. In Tibet, where beef and mutton and few vegetables were consumed and the coastal regions of Guangdong and Hong Kong consumed seafood-based diets, people in these areas found Pu’er Tea helped with digestion and provided important nutrients not available in their local diets. Pu’er was also very affordable, so drinking Pu’er Tea became popular in these areas and remains so today.

In 862 CE, Fan Cheuk, a Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) scholar undertook a mission on behalf of the Emperor of Western China and Yunnan.  He wrote in his book Meng Shu (“Book of Uncivilized Peoples”), “In the mountain areas around Yin-sheng, people use no sophisticated methods to pick tea. They cook leaves mixed with ginger, pepper, spices and milk and drink it”.  Imagine the horror of the royal court accustomed to green tea hand-picked by maidens using golden scissors to select the most tender green tea buds and tips.

In 1391, in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE), the first Ming Emperor ordered the abolition of all moon-shaped, compressed tea because people were wasting too much time in its manufacture. Only loose leaf tea would be permitted.  The Ming Dynasty scholar Zhao Yuan wrote that Pu Cha had been already very popular and everyone drank it regardless of class.

Many Emperors drank Pu’er tea for longevity and especially liked the taste of the teas made with the finest tips. In the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), Pu’er tea from Simao in Yunnan became a tribute tea by order of Yongzheng, the second Qing Emperor. In the tribute, custom, tea regions were selected by the Emperor to produce tea to be offered as a gift to the royal court, which was a great honour and good for business. The last Qing Emperor Fu Yi (also known as Pu Yi) and the last emperor in China’s history said “Drink Loong Jien (Dragon Well Green Tea) in summer and Pu’er in winter.  Drinking Pu’er Tea is like being a member of the Royal Family”

In 1879, the British and French, forever in their quest for black tea, set up customs offices in Simao. Tea export increased and the ancient remains of the famous Pu’er Tea Horse Roads which radiated throughout Asia, carrying the horses and tea caravans are a national heritage.

Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea somewhere between green (no oxidation) and black (fully oxidised) teas in oxidation. Therefore, it is known as semi-oxidised or partially oxidised. The camellia sinensis plant is where not only Oolong tea comes from, but where green, black and white tea comes from too.

Oolong tea, so named after its creator, is Chinese in origin with unique and distinctive characteristics produced mainly in Fujian and Guangdong, as well as Taiwan. Being a slightly oxidised tea, Oolong has a taste more akin to green tea than to black tea: it lacks the rosy, sweet aroma of black tea, but it likewise does not have the stridently grassy notes that typify green tea. It is commonly brewed to be strong, with the bitterness, leaving a sweet aftertaste. There are several sub-varieties of Oolong, with those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian and in the central mountains of Taiwan being among the most famous. Individual types of Oolong tea can range from, almost like a green tea to almost like a black tea, depending on the degree of oxidation during processing.

There is a separate legend about the origins of Oolong.  During the Qing dynasty a tea farmer in Fujian was picking tea one day when he saw a deer.  Deciding to hunt the deer instead of processing the picked tea, it was not until the next day that he got around to finishing the tea.  However by that time the edges of the leaves had partially oxidised, and gave off a surprising good aroma.  So deciding to finish the processing as usual, he was surprised to find that the resulting tea had a completely new strong, sweet flavour, that didn’t have any of bitterness that was usually produced.  This guy’s nickname was Oolong, and so the new tea was named after him.

Oolong tea truly began life in Fujian province, with a history there stretching back more than 1,000 years to a traditional form of tea called Beiyuan tea.  Beiyuan tea was the earliest known tribute tea (a tea given in tribute to the emperor or royal family) produced in Fujian, because of its fine quality and unique flavour, and one of the most well known teas produced during the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).  The Beiyuan area is located around the Phoenix mountain in Fujian, and had been a tea producing area since the earlier Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).  This tea was a compressed type of tea, with the leaves compressed into cakes.  In the tribute, custom, tea regions were selected by the Emperor to produce tea to be offered as a gift to the royal court, which was a great honour and good for business.

In time, government officials, monks and scholars began visiting and emigrating to the Fujian area and were surprised with the strong “earth-stone” taste of the teas from the Wuyi Mountain region, so different from the un-fermented Green Tea which was the only tea that existed in China to that point. These teas came to be known as Wuyi or Cliff Tea. Hearing of this wonderful new tea, the Emperor sent a sample of an un-fermented compressed Green Tea cake to Wuyi and asked for tribute tea. What he received was Dragon Phoenix Compressed Tea which was made from a mould which imprinted the tea cake with the design of a dragon and a phoenix. This tea became very famous as a result. The fame of Wuyi teas spread far and wide and continued to be designated as a tribute tea throughout the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644 – 1911).

In 1725, tea producers in the Anxi region of Fujian adapted the methods of making   traditional Wuyi Tea when these went out of fashion with the royalty and improved the technology to develop a new tea which was a partially oxidised loose leaf tea instead – Oolong. In 1796, Oolong Tea was introduced to the Northern Fujian region and to Taiwan, where today, each region is well known for their distinctive Oolong Teas.

In the early 1800’s a Fujian tea merchant took some seeds to Taiwan to see how well the plants would grow there.  It proved to be very successful and so in the following years tea production in Taiwan became very widespread.  However, for the first half of the century, most of the tea was sent back to Fujian to be processed there.  This changed in 1868 when a British man named John Dodd decided this was hugely inefficient, and so hired some Fujian tea masters to set up tea processing in Taipei.  This worked out very well, and in the following year Dodd shipped 127 tonnes of what was then called Formosa tea to the United States, where it was a great success.  From that time on, Oolong tea has been the most widely exported types of tea from Taiwan.

In the early 19th century, the British ambassador to China dedicated some Oolong tea to the Queen of England.  The queen was very taken with the unique taste and aroma, as well as its distinctive appearance – quite different to any teas seen before in England – and gave it the name “Oriental Beauty”.

The lifestyles of modern Japanese people have changed substantially. To alleviate feelings of “dissatisfaction caused by having only green tea” in ordinary households, Oolong tea started to gain significant attention as a tea suitable to go with oily foods and as a tea that could be consumed in large quantities. In 1979, ITO EN launched a product by adapting Chinese Oolong tea to Japanese tastes. This triggered a boom in Oolong tea in Japan. Subsequently, to meet the needs of a fast-paced modern lifestyle, ITO EN developed a ready-to-drink tea beverage product, something that had been previously unthinkable. In 1981, the Company launched its canned Oolong tea, and this was followed by canned green tea and canned black tea in 1985.

White tea leaves are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened and is therefore made from immature leaves; tea leaves are processed less than green tea leaves, so instead of air-drying, the unwithered leaves are merely steamed. This results in a place tea with a sweet, silky flavour. The silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turn white when the tea has been dried, is the origin of the tea’s name. The exact proportion of buds to leaves varies depending on the variety of white tea. For example, White Peony contains one bud for every two leaves, while Silver Needles, the finest quality of white tea, is made entirely from downy buds picked within a two day period in early Spring and gets its name from the fine silvery white hairs on each of the buds.

In hard times, very poor Chinese people would serve guests boiled water if they could not afford tea. Host and guest would refer to the water as “white tea” and act as if the tradition of serving guests tea had been carried out as usual. This usage is related to plain boiled water being called “white boiled water” in Chinese.

However, true white tea is a specialty, formerly a luxury reserved for the emperor of China. White tea is also widely believed to be China’s earliest form of tea, based on the fact that its processing consists basically of only drying the leaves, and so must have been the first methods that people used to allow the buds to be stored after they were picked.

For many years it was believed that white tea was discovered during the Song Dynasty (920-1269 C.E.), however, a form of compressed tea referred to as white tea was being produced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.). This special white tea was picked in early spring, when the tea bushes had abundant growths which resembled silver needles. These “first flushes” were used as the raw material to make the compressed tea. Steamed, crushed, and poured into moulds, and baked into cakes until dry. To prepare tea for drinking these cakes were roasted in the fire until soft enough to be crushed into a powder which was added to boiling water, often with flavourings such as ginger, orange peel, cloves, or peppermint.

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279 C.E.) white tea was the choice of the royal court, given as a tribute to the emperor, it is rumoured that it could only be served to the emperor by virgins with white gloves as a symbol of honour and respect. The cakes of tea were ground into a very fine powder and whisked in boiling water to produce a frothy liquid, more subtle flavourings of jasmine, lotus, and chrysanthemum flowers replacing the spicier additions of earlier times. A version of this method of tea preparation is still found in the famous Japanese tea ceremony. One Song Emperor was renowned for his love of white tea. Hui Zong (1101-1125) became so obsessed with finding the perfect tea that it literally cost him most of his empire.

It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that the Ming court ruled that only loose leaf white tea could be served as a tribute to the emperor, thus changing our understanding of white tea processing and its preparation forever.

Over the next several centuries, powdered white tea and the Song Tea Ceremony were abandoned for loose-leaf tea. Leading to modern-day white teas that can be traced to the Qing Dynasty in 1796. Teas were processed and distributed as loose tea that was to be steeped, and they were produced from chaicha, a mixed-variety tea bush. The white tea process differed from other Chinese green teas in that it did not incorporate de-enzyming by steaming or pan-firing. Also, the white teas that were produced from the chaicha tea bushes were thin, small, and did not have much silvery-white hair.

It was not until 1885 that specific variety of tea bushes were selected to make “Silver Needles” and other white teas. The large, fleshy buds of the “Big White,” “Small White,” and “Narcissus” tea bushes were selected to make white teas and are still used today as the raw material for the production of white tea. By 1891, the large, silvery-white down-covered Silver Needle was exported, and the production of White Peony started around 1922.

White tea was first produced in the Fuding area of Fujian province, and then spread out to the nearby Shuiji and Zhenghe areas.  The earliest types of white teas grown in these areas were silver needle, white peony, and then later Gongmei and Shoumei.

The birthplace of silver needle white tea – famed for its white pekoe covering – is in the area around Taimushan Mountain in Fujian.  During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing – in the late 1700’s – silver needle was very rare, being made only from the small buds of the local variety of tea tree.  A major evolution, that cemented this teas popularity, occurred around 1857, when the Fuding variety of the tea tree was discovered.  The buds of this tea tree where much larger, and had a much richer covering of pekoe and a much stronger taste and fragrance.  The silver needle tea produced from Fuding tea had a much more enjoyable, stronger flavour and fragrance and could easily be produced in much greater quantities. By the time of Emperor Guangxu in the late 1890’s, export of silver needle to foreign countries began, and during the early 1900’s the popularity of this tea overseas grew rapidly.

White peony white tea was originally produced by the local farmers in the town of Shuiji in Fujian in the 1870’s from the local large leafed tea trees.  It’s popularity grew in the 1920’s when production began in the nearby Zhenghe county, which soon became the main production area in China.  Today White Peony is mainly produced in the counties of Zhenghe, Jianyang, Songxi and Fuding, all in the province of Fujian.

Until the mid-17th century (late Ming, early Qing Dynasty), the only teas consumed in China were Green (un-oxidised) and Oolong (semi-oxidised) teas. The tale goes that while a passing army entered the Fujian Province, they decided to take shelter at a nearby tea factory. This held up production at the factory and leaves were left out in the sun, causing them to oxidise for a longer period of time, resulting in darker leaves. In an effort to accelerate the drying time, they decided to smoke the leaves over pine wood, thus creating Lapsang Souchong, which became one of the very first black teas and was produced in the area around Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province.  This high mountainous area was called Lapsang and the small leaf tea trees Souchong – hence the name.

Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century. However, the history of black tea in Europe began in the 17th century, when European explorers first reached China. The first documented record of tea in Europe is from 1610, when Dutch merchants first brought back Chinese black tea from China, and then sold it widely all around Europe.  In England, it was at first considered a ‘mysterious oriental drink’ and sold at very high prices at the London coffee houses, so only the aristocracy could afford it. Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley, was one of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea; he sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. From this beginning, it became a drink that identified the well to do, and so became popular as a drink to indicate your wealth and position in society.

The British are renowned worldwide for their passion for tea.  In 1662, when Princess Catherine from Portugal married King Charles, she brought several crates of Chinese black tea as a dowry.  That introduced black tea to the British palace, and since that time it has been an indispensable part of the life of British royalty. 

Charles II did his bit by passing several acts forbidding the sale of tea in private houses to counter its growth; this measure was designed to counter sedition, but it was so unpopular that it was impossible to enforce. A 1676 act taxed tea and required coffee house operators to apply for a licence. This was just the start of government attempts to control, or at least to profit from, the popularity of tea in Britain. By the mid-18th century the duty on tea had reached an absurd 119%. 

This heavy taxation had the effect of creating a whole new industry – tea smuggling. Ships from Holland and Scandinavia brought tea to the British coast, and then stood offshore while smugglers met them and unloaded the precious cargo in small vessels. The smugglers, often local fishermen, snuck the tea inland via underground passages and hidden paths to special hiding places, including parish churches. However, even the smuggled tea was expensive and therefore extremely profitable, so many smugglers began to adulterate the tea with other substances, such as willow, liquorice, and sloe leaves. Used tea leaves were also re-dried and added to fresh leaves. Finally, in 1784, William Pitt the Younger introduced the Commutation Act, which dropped the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%, effectively ending smuggling.

In 1840, the Duchess of Bedford, introduced the idea of afternoon tea in order to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which in fashionable circles might not be served until 8 o’clock at night. This fashionable custom soon evolved into high tea among the working classes, when this late afternoon repast became the main meal of the day. As the price of black tea slowly became more affordable, a cup of tea in the morning and afternoon quickly became widely popular with all levels of British society, with the result that today drinking black tea is almost synonymous with British society.

What impressed westerners most about black tea was not only the robust flavour the tea produced, but also the improved lifespan of the leaves over time. As British demand for black tea grew, so did the holes in their pockets, as they struggled to pay for their tea treasures in a market that was quickly being monopolised by the Dutch. By 1750, they were purchasing millions of pounds of tea every year from China. Even though they managed to counterbalance it with the opium trade to some extent, it was obvious that their tea addiction was getting exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable. 

This motivated British traders to explore other avenues for acquiring black tea. After several failed attempts, Scottish explorer, Robert Bruce, made a startling discovery in 1823 when he found a native tea plant that was growing in the Upper Brahmaputra Valley and being brewed by the local Singhpho tribe. While Robert Bruce died before he could get the plant officially classified, his brother, Charles Alexander Bruce, dispatched the tea samples to the Botanical Garden in Calcutta on Christmas Eve of 1834. On closer analysis, these were officially classified as a variation of the Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis var sinensis). This plant was named Camellia sinensis var Assamica (Masters) Kitamura.

Initially, the British considered the Assamese plant inferior, but they later realised that the Chinese variety was unable to survive the hot weather conditions in Assam. Eventually, they decided to go ahead with the Assamese plant and by 1838, the first consignment of 12 chests of Assam tea had reached London. Darjeeling was transferred to the East India Company in 1835, and the Chinese tea variant was deemed suitable for the region in 1841. Dr A Campbell was the first to plant Chinese seeds in Darjeeling that he had brought from Kumaon. Commercial plantations started in the 1850s and 113 plantations were set up in Darjeeling by 1874, covering 18,888 acres and accounting for a production of 3.9 million pounds.

The positive results from Assam and Darjeeling inspired many similar endeavours towards cultivating tea across the entire foothills of the Himalayas and other parts of India. By 1863, 78 plantations had been set up in Kumaon, Dehra Dun, Garhwal, Kangra Valley and Kulu. In South India, Dr Christie was the first to explore the potential of tea plantations in the Nilgiri in 1832. By 1853, India’s tea exports had reached 183.4 tons. They further soared to 6,700 tons by 1870 and 35,274 tons by 1885.

Tea production in India continued to prosper after 1947. The Marwari community played a key role in this regard, as many Marwaris took over the tea plantations from British owners. Tea production has increased by more than 250% since 1947 with the corresponding rise in area under production at around 40%. India’s total tea production reached around 1,197.18 million kg in 2014-15. Of this, around 955.82 million kg (79.8%) was produced in North India and 241.36 million kg (20.2%) in South India.

Tea was discovered in its greenest form over five thousand years ago; some versions of history depict a flower falling into a cup of hot water, while another has a man eating a leaf and realising how delicious it would be steeped in water. For centuries, all tea was green tea. Green tea is simply the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant placed to steep in hot water. The leaves had not undergone any of the oxidation process of tea leaves today, so it was tea in its most natural form. This version of green tea is still enjoyed around the world today, as are many other versions of the same tea leaf.

Green tea was first brought to Japan in AD 805 by two Buddhist monks, Saicho and Kukai, who, after studying abroad in China, returned with some young tea trees. 

In AD 1191 another Buddhist monk, Eisai, popularised the idea of drinking tea for good health after studying in China for a period of time. Around the same time, Japanese farmers began growing green tea in Uji, Kyoto. Eisai then went on to write the first Japanese book about tea, KISSA YOHJYOH KI, in AD 1211.

Obuku area in the Ujiawara region of Kyoto had its first tea trees planted in AD 1271 by a Buddhist monk, Kohken. Obuku is a small area of land with a diameter of just 0.4 miles (600 meters). Even today, Obuku is known for producing very rare, highest grade Sencha. In Japan, there are only a few places where top grade Sencha is produced and the Obuku area in Uji is one of them. Obuku is located in mountain ravines, where tiny streams run, and the soil is full of minerals. The misty climate, sloping hills, warm days and cool nights provide an ideal setting in which to grow the highest grade tea. Indeed, Sencha as produced in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese emperors for many years. One special advantage of the Obuku region is that it never suffers from frost, even on very cold winter mornings; because of Obuku’s unique geography, it is always mildly windy. It is said that the wind blows the frost away and that this is the reason why there is no frost in Obuku.

In the 16th century, shading from sunlight with Tana canopies began, in order to prevent damage by frost; the tea leaves were covered by a canopy in February and March just before the sprouts appear. However, it is believed that tea farmers discovered by accident that tea leaves grown in shade have mellow taste, and then began to shade tea leaves from sunlight after sprouts appear to create the mellow taste. Today, tea leaves for Matcha are shaded from sunlight by a canopy called TANA, for 20 to 30 days just before harvest, to create a source of mellow taste, Theanine in tea leaves.

During the late 16th century, Rikyu Sen popularised the tea ceremony. In the Japanese tea ceremony, even today people celebrate aged Matcha in the ceremony called Kuchikiri no Gi every autumn. Kuchikiri no Gi means the ceremony of opening a special jar of tea. Matcha and Gyokuro used to be placed in a large tea jar. This tea jar was then sealed and stored in a cool place, like the top of a high mountain or in the ground, after harvest until autumn. People would first enjoy that year’s Matcha and Gyokuro in the autumn after the Kuchikiri no Gi ceremony. It was said that when the jar lid first opened in autumn, the delicious fragrance of the tea filled the room and was so wonderful that there were no words to describe it.

In AD 1789, in Ujitawara, Kyoto, Soen Nagatani developed a new process of steam drying tea leaves. The new process, known as the Uji method, resulted in fresh, flavourful tea. It quickly replaced the traditional method of roasting and drying tea leaves.

In AD 1841, in the Ogura area of Uji in Kyoto, Shigejyuro Eguchi perfected the Gyokuro processing method based on the process that was then being used to process Sencha, invented by Sohen Nagatani in 1738. The tea leaves used for Gyokuro were the same as those used for Tencha. (Tea leaves used for Matcha, before they are ground into fine powder, but after stems and veins are removed, are known as Tencha.)

On the other hand, the use of tea leaves first originated in China more than three thousand years ago, and was likely initially used by people just for chewing and eating, in just the same way that coffee was first used by people eating the beans directly in Ethiopia.  Over time, the use of leaves and buds of the tea tree gradually expanded as people began to use in cooking and when added to boiling water to flavour the water they drank.

During the period of the Wei Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 220-589), the popularity of drinking tea soared and tea slowly changed from a luxury item into a drink commonly consumed by the public, as simple basic drying processes were introduced that increased its availability and allowed the introduction of scented teas, which helped lessen the bitterness green teas had at that time.

During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) tea drinking became ingrained as a fundamental part of Chinese society, with a whole culture around tea drinking springing up and the introduction of formalized ‘tea ceremonies.  During this time, the process of steaming the tea leaves was gradually refined, allowing the production of better tasting, less bitter, green teas.

By the time of the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) tea drinking had become an integral part of the daily life of all Chinese, in a similar way to how afternoon tea became ingrained in the English culture.  The use and production of so-called ‘tribute teas – those produced to be presented to the emperor and other high officials – became an important part of royal culture and a source of government taxation.  The production of these tribute teas, such as Xihu Longjing and Dongting Biluochun, had fuelled rapid innovation in the types and quality of tea produced, as people competed for royal favour.  One of the most famous of these tribute teas was Dragon-Phoenix ball tea, which was commonly grown and presented to the royal family.  A special type, called Miynlong tea, was specially packed in a yellow silk and presented to the emperor.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the first Emperor, Zhu Yanzhang, formally abolished the tradition and government control of giving tribute tea.  Once that happened, a golden age of green tea innovation resulted.  Production flourished and new production techniques, types and styles of tea were quickly tried.  It was during this period that the use of loose-leaf tea became dominant.  Roasting (dry heating) of the tea to ‘fix’ it to stop oxidation was introduced during the 16th century, and remains to this day the primary technique used to make green tea.

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